When one thinks about Carrie, Stephen King’s debut novel about a high school girl who discovers she has telekinetic powers all while being mocked and tormented by her classmates, a musical doesn’t come instantly to mind. But in 1988 Carrie: The Musical was adapted by Lawrence D. Cohen, with lyrics by Dean Pitchford and music by Michael Gore debuted. It was panned by critics, but it didn’t curtail a revival in 2012, one that made a few changes to the original. It has become a cult favorite and has come to the Eastern Shore through a joint production between Church Hill Theatre and Chesapeake College.
Last night I had the opportunity of seeing the dress rehearsal. Normally dress rehearsals only have a few members in the audience. Chesapeake opened the rehearsal to members of its faculty and a few students, so it really played more like a show than a rehearsal.
And it was quite a show. It left me wordless at first on how I felt about the show. Now that I have found a few words, those words are I thoroughly enjoyed the show. In short it blew me away. The production, the performances and the show itself. Since critics panned the show when it was originally produced I was surprised on how well the music and songs interact with the story.
Rob Thompson, a Chesapeake College professor, directs this joint Chesapeake College-Church Hill Theatre production. He keeps the setting of the show to a small town high school in Chamberlain, Maine during the late 1980’s. Perhaps that is what makes it a better show in the 2000’s since everyone has campy memories of the 80’s. Ones that are brought to mind while watching the show.
Everyone who has read the novel by Stephen King, or seen the movies, have their vision of the characters. Rob and I must have had nearly the same vision since the actors are very near to what I remember envisioning when I read the novel many years ago.Shannon Whittaker is Carrie and Maureen Curtin expertly plays her religious fanatic mother, Margaret. Carrie’s classmates Sue, Tommy, Chris, and Billy are played by Reilly Claxton, Jacob Wheatley, Olivia Litteral and Brandon Walls.
It could be easy for Billy to be played over the top. Brandon Walls takes it to the top, without going quite over. He is the complete opposite of Chris, his girl friend and Carrie’s primary tormenter Chris. Olivia Litteral gives an remarkable performance as the privileged Rich Girl, whose father is a lawyer and disapproves of her seeing Billy, even to the point where he has offered to give her a new car if she drops Billy. But she’s waiting for a Beemer.
Jacob Wheatley’s Tommy is the sweet artist jock, his poem is the best in class and is read to jeers by his classmates, except for Carrie and Sue.
Reilly Claxton’s Sue, torned between good and bad, does carry the show.
The sympathetic teacher, Miss Gardner, is Samantha Smith. Other featured characters are played by James Kaplanges, Kiya Cohen, Shannon Landers, Catherine Jacobs, Morgan Jung, Sean Priest and Albert Conteh. Students, dancers, telekinetic spirits, police officers and others include Anna Terry, Savannah Bixler, Briana Litteral, Gracie Jordan, Megan Kaley, Alyson Farnell and Morgan Jung.
I wouldn’t call it a perfect show. But during the dress rehearsal, I didn’t see any obvious goofs. One thing for sure, I’m sure it will not be the same at each of their nine performances. That’s the wonder of live theatre. There are a few scene transitions that need to be cleaned up. But having been involved with a few shows as part of the back stage crew, often the transitions are rough the first few performances. And I think that the make-up for Chris seemed a bit overboard. But then again it does take place in the 1980’s.
Musical Director William Thomas conducts from the piano. His musician are Gary Caffrey, on guitar, Tom Anthony on bass, and Ray Anthony on drums. The backstage and production team includes a set by Richard Peterson and Carmelo Grasso, with lights by Nic Carter, costumes by Miranda Fister and Jennifer Houghton, Maddie Baynard is the stage manager with Jacob Blades as assistant stage manager. Church Hill’s Shelagh Grasso is the producer with Sylvia Maloney as associate producer.
Not only do I recommend you see Carrie: The Musical, I would suggest you see it more than once. The first time to sit back, enjoy the show, let the music and story take you, and see how unique and different it is from the usual musicals one sees on the shore. And return a second time to see all the detail that has been put into the show and look at all the little things that the actors are doing apart from the main action.
Carrie: the Musical opens tonight Friday, October 27, 2017, and runs through Sunday, November 12. Because this is a joint production, with performances at two locations, please note the theaters and times carefully.
CHESAPEAKE COLLEGE: Friday, October 27, Saturday, October 28, and Sunday, October 29 at the Cadby Theater. Shows are at 8 pm on Friday and Saturday with a Sunday matinee at 2 pm.
CHURCH HILL THEATRE: Fridays, November 3 & 10, Saturdays, November 4 & 11, and Sundays, November 5 & 12 at Church Hill Theatre, with evening shows at 8 pm and matinees at 2 pm.